The best start to an MLB career ever is happening right now

Davis Schneider sports a record 1.315 OPS through his first 25 games

September 13th, 2023

is off to the greatest start in Major League history.

This is not hyperbole, though it’s also that. It’s just that after 25 games and 102 plate appearances with the Blue Jays, entering Wednesday night's key matchup with the Rangers, Schneider is hitting .370/.500/.815, which is a 1.315 OPS. That is the best anyone’s ever done through their first 25 games. Ever. Ever-ever. Ever!

Best OPS in AL/NL history, through 25 games, all-time

  • 1.315 // Davis Schneider, 2023 Blue Jays
  • 1.246 // Mandy Brooks, 1925 Cubs
  • 1.202 // Alvin Davis, 1984 Mariners
  • 1.182 // Austin Kearns, 2002 Reds
  • 1.169 // Rhys Hoskins, 2017 Phillies
  • 1.165 // George Scott, 1965 Red Sox
  • 1.149 // Albert Pujols, 2001 Cardinals
  • 1.140 // Willie McCovey, 1959 Giants
  • 1.137 // Mitchell Page, 1977 A's

Now: You don’t know who Mandy Brooks is and neither do we – he apparently hit just .188 in his second year and that was that – and despite the presence of legends like Albert Pujols and Willie McCovey here, “being the next Mandy Brooks” remains a very real possible outcome for Schneider.

Yet further down that list? Yordan Alvarez at 16th-best. Bo Bichette at 19th. Joe DiMaggio at 20th. Pete Alonso at 22nd. Some of baseball's best hitters have started off nearly this hot. But there’s also Chris Dickerson and Emmet Heidrick and Dino Restelli, and that is exactly the point. You can’t fake your way to a great 25-game start. Nothing, also, is guaranteed behind that.

Schneider’s start was the best through 21 games. It was the best through 24 games, too. But there’s something special about “25 games and 100 plate appearances.” It feels like the time to pay a little closer attention to what’s going on here, especially since Schneider has quickly become a crucial piece on a club locked in a tight battle for an AL Wild Card berth.

The first thing: You’d think someone slugging .815 would be hitting the absolute tar out of the ball. You’d be wrong. Schneider’s hard-hit rate is a good-not-great 40%, or essentially what George Springer and Brandon Belt are doing.

You’d assume that someone with a .370 average would be an incredible contact hitter, like Luis Arraez. You’d be wrong there, too. Schneider has struck out 29 times in those 102 plate appearances, or 28%, essentially tied for the second-highest on the Blue Jays. Not, of course, that they care about strikeouts with everything else he’s doing. But it’s not this, either.

You’d think, then, that someone slugging .815 with the best ever start to a career through 25 games would be doing something extreme, and you’d be right. Three things, really, the kind of things that help him get past the fact that he’s not exactly an exit velocity monster.

Start with this: Absolutely no one in the game – no one! – chases outside the zone less than he has.

Lowest chase rates in MLB, 2023 (min. 100 PA)

  • 14.8% // Davis Schneider
  • 15.2% // Edouard Julien
  • 15.7% // Robbie Grossman
  • 16.2% // Travis Jankowski
  • 16.7% // Cavan Biggio
  • 16.8% // Mookie Betts
  • 16.9% // Anthony Rendon
  • 17% // Juan Soto, Mitch Garver, Lars Nootbaar

Schneider chased only 20.7% of the time in Triple-A this year; elite command of the strike zone appears to be a real skill.

Continue with this: Only one player this year – some guy named Judge – has a higher barrel rate than Schneider does, and barrels are the perfect combination of exit velocity and launch angle. That is: He might not hit it all that hard, but when he does, he hits it hard in the air.

Best barrel rates in MLB, 2023 (min. 100 PA)

  • 26.1% // Aaron Judge
  • 21.2% // Davis Schneider
  • 20.1% // Patrick Wisdom
  • 20% // Nelson Velazquez

Which leads us to this: Absolutely no one in the 21st century – no one! – hits the ball on the ground as infrequently as he does.

Lowest ground ball rates, since 2000 (min. 100 PA)

  • 17.3% // Davis Schneider, 2023 Blue Jays
  • 19.4% // Rod Barajas, 2010 Mets/Dodgers
  • 19.5% // Ryan Schimpf, 2016 Padres
  • 19.5% // Adam Duvall, 2023 Red Sox
  • 19.6% // Ryan Schimpf, 2017 Padres

This is, apparently, the entirety of the plan. Don’t swing at anything you can’t drive into the air, and when you do swing, make sure it’s in the air, and when it’s in the air, make sure it’s hit just hard enough to make it dangerous.

The first part, the "don’t bother to swing at absolutely anything that can’t be turned into damage" part, can be seen not only in that MLB-low chase rate but also the tied-for-MLB-best 19% walk rate, and when we say “tied” we mean “with Juan Soto, just above Aaron Judge.”

He just doesn’t swing, really, with the fifth-lowest swing rate, and there’s just a whole heap of evidence that suggests that swinging less is actually a terrific idea, as Eno Sarris found last year. (“Hitters should not swing,” Driveline founder Kyle Boddy told Sarris, and MLB’s own Tom Tango found “there are very few players who have a positive contribution with their swings.”)

The second part? Just look at his spray chart. A few singles up the middle, sure, but the damage is to left, down the line and over the fence.

So what does all this mean? It doesn’t mean, of course, that he’ll keep hitting .370/.500/.815 indefinitely. (He will not.) He’ll be worse going forward than he’s been so far; it’s an absolute certainty. But: Is the future here more Mandy Brooks or Willie McCovey?

He’s indeed been the beneficiary of at least some good fortune, which is not a dig at Schneider, just the absolute truth of a man hitting .370 with a .500 BABIP. (Meaning that even if you remove the homers, half of his batted balls are turning into hits.) Yet even the underlying Statcast quality-of-contact metrics have him as seventh-best batter in baseball, behind six absolute legends, (including both MVP winners, no matter how the NL shakes out), so even if they’re not saying he’s this good, they’re still saying … he's extremely good.

But most importantly, now that we’re at the 100 plate appearance mark, we can at least look at the things that are known to be meaningful in that short of a term. That is: It only takes one 100 mph fastball to know a pitcher can throw hard, but it can take hundreds of plate appearances to know if a hitter is really a .370 batter. So what’s meaningful here?

You can generally trust that walk rate is reflecting what a player’s true skill is after 120 plate appearances, according to research, and not only is Schneider just about there, but his walk rate in the Majors isn’t out of character with the 15% rate he showed in the Minors and the 18% he had in Triple-A this year. If that’s real, and it seems to be, it’s meaningful; over the last 10 seasons, there has not once been a player with a walk rate of 16% or better who didn’t have, at worse, an average batting season. (In most cases, it’s far better than just average, too, as the list is full of Trouts, Sotos, Harpers and Judges.)

More interesting, though, is the barrel rate. That requires about 50 batted balls to tell you anything about anything, and Schneider, entering Wednesday, is at 52. Let’s be extremely clear on this: This does not mean “numbers say he’ll keep mashing like Aaron Judge.” But barreling up a ball like this is something that can’t be faked, and even if he fell back to the 12% barrel rate he had in Triple-A instead of the 21% he has now, well, that’s still considerably better than the Major League average of 8%.

Described by Jays execs as “never a priority” due to his status as a 28th-round Draft pick back in 2017, Schneider reportedly put on some “good weight” over the last year, and all of this might just make him a big part of Toronto’s present, and future. As Mandy Brooks would tell you, a hot start doesn’t guarantee anything more than one more day in the Major Leagues, and there’s absolutely zero chance – zero! – that Schneider is really a .370 hitter who will slug north of .800. He doesn’t need to be, though.

With plate discipline like this, and the ability to lift the ball with good-enough power (to go with what, early on, seems like competent enough second base defense) there’s a good Major League player in there. Potentially, even, a very good one.